Eastern vs. Western Learning and Education

I’ve had a few requests to share what I do to help train teachers to go to China. This is my 5th year helping with this training. It’s the program that I went to China with way back in 2006. They help teachers find jobs in China and train them to go. The training includes things like the history and culture of China, information on living in China, and teaching in China. To be a teacher in China, you need a bachelor’s degree in any subject area. It doesn’t have to be in education. However, in the last few years, many provinces in China are starting to require either a teaching background, teaching experience, or a TEFL certificate. Therefore, we now require all our teachers to go through some sort of online TEFL training that China will recognize.

So, my job at orientation is to give them detailed information on teaching ESL, and, more specifically, teaching English in China. I do four sessions that are about an hour each.

In the first session I teach, I try to help the teachers understand the different mentality between the east and west when it comes to teaching, learning, and education. The difference is quite vast!

For example, the concept of the teacher is extremely different between the East and the West. In America and Europe, the teacher is more of a facilitator. The teacher leads a discussion, as opposed to dominating it.  In opposition, in Asia, the teacher is “the sage on the stage”. The teacher is the authority on everything and shouldn’t be questioned. That was such a strange concept to me as an American teaching in China. I could literally write the word “kat” on the board and no one would dare correct me.

Americans are very individualistic as a whole. We focus more on me, me, me. In the educational world, this translates to being very competitive in the classroom. In the Eastern world, students are more group-oriented. They work together more and help each other more often. This also translates to more cheating, because they feel the need to help their classmates.

In China, students are most often respectful and polite in the classroom. Students are eager to please the teacher. As we know, Americans are like this when they are very young, but, usually, after elementary school, this sadly disappears.

In the West, students are taught to think outside the box, to do their own thinking, and to challenge existing ideas. Whereas, in the East, students usually memorize, usually take official answers without questioning them, and have trouble being creative in the classroom.

These are just a few of the differences in learning and education between the East and the West. If you plan to go to Asia to teach, knowing these differences is extremely essential. You might try a teaching method or a way of managing your classroom and it just doesn’t work and you don’t get why. Culture affects learning. Expectations affect learning. Learn these differences before you go and teach. These concepts are also helpful even if you teach in the US and have Asian students in your classroom.

More teacher training to come!

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2 thoughts on “Eastern vs. Western Learning and Education

  1. These are exactly the issues that Professor Yong Zhao has repeatedly pointed out in opposing the top-down testing-mentality of corporate reform. This kind of reform kills creativity. We actually will wind up killing the goose that laid the golden egg for western thought and progress. Thanks for sharing this!

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